It seems that the hot topic these days is the evolution of digital commerce.  With platforms like Shopify raising the bar on what it means to deliver outstanding mobile experiences, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is in love with the idea of shopping strictly online.  Many customers are still hesitant to shop online (my mom included), and as a result their ideas of good customer experiences are largely influenced by offline retail.

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This presents an interesting reality for ecommerce merchants.  Now, they’re no longer simply competing with online businesses - they need to stand up against offline experiences, too!  However, while some customers might be under the impression that online retailers can’t deliver the same types of experiences as offline stores, they shouldn’t count them out just yet.

By analyzing what makes the best offline experiences so amazing, you can turn your online store into the ultimate destination for superior customer experiences.  The key is simply knowing what you’re up against.  So let’s take a look at 5 of the top in-store experiences and what they can teach us about making your store utterly irresistible.

The Disney Store's In-Store Experience Makes Shopping Immersive

Since the opening of Disneyland in 1955, the Disney brand has become synonymous with the idea of immersive experiences.  From the sounds to the smells to the landscaping, the entertainment giant has been using every resource at their disposal to create truly magical experiences. Guests are transported them from their everyday lives to a place where dreams come true and anything is possible.

This passion has been mirrored in each of The Disney Store’s locations.  Mountains of recognizable plush characters stand guard at the front of the store, while intricate projections and lighting sequences twinkle throughout the store.  Accompanied by a soundtrack of beloved Disney songs while they shop, customers get to explore Disney’s merchandise in a way that removes them from the regular hustle and bustle of being in a store.  This ambience truly sets The Disney Store apart as a master of stories and customer experiences.

How to Make Your Online Experience Immersive

While you might not be able to entice shoppers to your store with piles of toys or animated lighting, you can take advantage of interactive content - particularly video.  Animoto reports that 4 times as many customers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it.  What’s more, 25% of all customers have reported actually losing interest in a company if it doesn’t use video.

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Clearly, customers are looking for opportunities to engage with the content they’re consuming, so give it to them! Including video and animated images on your homepage are the perfect way to not only draw your customers in, but fully immerse them in your brand as well.

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Use large play buttons to entice customers to click on your content, and reward them with high quality videos that immerse them in your brand experience.  With these tools at your disposal, you’re well on your way to mimicking and building on the massive success The Disney Store has experienced.

DAVIDsTEA's In-Store Experience Makes Shopping Inviting

Whether you’re a tea addict like myself or not, it’s hard to deny the appeal of a DAVIDsTEA store.  With bright teal branding and their products packaged in a rainbow of colors, the tea mogul is very good at catching your attention.  As soon as you step inside, this inviting atmosphere continues as you’re greeted by a sales associate who welcomes you with a small cup of fresh tea.

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While these elements might seem small or inconsequential, they go a long way with customers.  DAVIDsTEA’s friendly service, combined with their clean, uncluttered store organization, communicates a commitment to the customer experience at every point in the transaction.  This dedication even goes so far as to extend beyond the store, as customers are handed their purchases in teal paper bags that are as environmentally friendly as they are stylish.  These features all work together to create the image of a brand who takes great pride in their store’s appearance and seeks to impress this commitment upon their customers at all times.

How to Make Your Online Experience Inviting

Whether customers prefer to shop online or offline, they’re all looking for brands that feel inviting. Customers want to feel like they’re giving their business to someone who deserves it, and making them feel welcome is a large part of that.

One of the best ways to do that with your online store is with a professional homepage.  Throwing a bunch of colors and styles together creates a cluttered, overwhelming experience for your shoppers and won’t give them confidence in your brand’s ability to meet their needs.  Instead, keep your design simple and focus on putting your products front and center.

in-store experience ASOS

ASOS does this extremely well.  With a simple navigation menu and all important information visible on one screen, the UK fashion brand welcomes customers in a clean, easy-to-digest way.  Customers don’t have to hunt for what they’re looking for, and can easily understand how the store is laid out.  So while shoppers might not be greeted with a free cup of tea, the site’s professionalism leaves them still confident in their decision to shop here and excited to explore more of what the site has to offer.

Sephora's In-Store Experience Makes Their Customers Feel Like VIPs

When it comes to hair and beauty, there are few things that feel more luxurious than a makeover.  Getting your nails or face done by a professional makeup artist is a highly prized experience, and it’s one that Sephora has built much of their business on.

As one of the most successful beauty brands on the planet, Sephora stores are constantly flooded with customers looking for the high-end beauty experience promised by the brand.  With tech innovations like Color IQ and Virtual Artist, and the assistance of knowledgeable employees, Sephora gives their customers personalized attention that tailors their shopping experience to their individual needs and preferences.

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Driving this VIP experience is Sephora’s world-class rewards program: VIB Rouge.  With three levels of customer exclusivity, Sephora completes their customer experience with a series of rewards designed specifically to make every shopper feel like a celebrity.

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How to Make Your Online Experience Exclusive

Sephora is a unique case in the sense that they’re also a great example of how to deliver exclusivity through an online experience.  With a significant percentage of their business conducted online, they’ve made VIB Rouge a central focus of their ecommerce store.

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Customers are often invited to join on the homepage, and can find everything they need to know about the program on a dedicated explainer page.  There, they can see which benefits are available at which level - a breakdown that will ultimately motivate them to engage more often with the brand in order to unlock that coveted status.

in-store experiences sephora VIB tiers

Customers like to know that they’re receiving benefits others aren’t, and this knowledge is paramount to delivering an exclusive online experience.  When you give your customers something unexpected - such as rewards - you begin to build a relationship that ultimately encourages them to seek more opportunities to engage with your brand and reminds them that they can’t get this type of experience anywhere else.

Apple's In-Store Experience Puts Customer Service First

With hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of people passing through each Apple store location on a daily basis, it’s safe to assume that a large number of them are going to need some help.  Whether it’s finding the right product or fixing problems with their existing devices, customers flock to the Apple store seeking the advice of one of their tech Gurus.

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This customer behavior is rooted in the fact that Apple has made customer support and service a pillar of their company’s overwhelming success, and it shows in their stores’ design.  What’s one of the first things you see when you walk into an Apple store?  Chances are, you immediately notice the seemingly hundreds of sales reps wandering throughout the store, or the Genius Bar immediately in front of you.  For Apple, customer service is paramount to the customer experience they deliver, and its superior quality is one of the many reasons they don’t have or need a loyalty program.

How to Make Your Online Experience Helpful

If Apple’s approach to customer service shows us anything, it’s that visibility is key.  If customers don’t know you’re willing and want to help them, they’re not going to equate your brand with helpful support.

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Adding a live chat feature to your online store is a simple yet effective way to let your customers know that you’re here to help.  You can even simply add a “Support” or “Contact” link to your navigation bar or footer.  No matter what page they’re on, customers will be able to easily access and understand how to get in touch with you, establishing a sense of trust that transcends their initial attraction to your brand.

Like a friend, live chat and contact forms evoke ideas of an “open door” policy, encouraging customers to take advantage of your desire to help them get the most out of your brand’s experience.

F.A.O. Schwarz's In-Store Experience Makes Shopping Fun

If you’ve ever seen the classic Tom Hanks film Big, you’re probably familiar with F.A.O. Schwarz.  Arguably the most famous toy store in the world, F.A.O. Schwarz was a tourist staple on New York City’s iconic Fifth Avenue until it shut its doors in 2015!  With multiple floors filled with candy and larger-than-life toys, and “toy” soldiers standing sentry at the door, the store became a symbol of fun and playfulness for people from all over the world.  After all, what’s more fun than a life-size Noah’s Ark?

Much like The Disney Store, F.A.O. Schwarz created a store environment that was so dramatically different from the outside world that it demanded to be experienced in its entirety.  Whether customers grew up with the toys they sold or not, F.A.O. Schwarz put them in the position to experience them in an absorbing, visceral way that you simply can’t find anywhere else.  This nostalgic approach to customer experience was both novel and whimsical, making it unlike anything else customers have ever experienced.

How to Make Your Online Experience Fun

Obviously it’s impossible to provide each of your customers with a life-size piano, but there are other ways to make your online shopping experience fun. For starters, you can start by emphasizing what sets your store apart.  F.A.O. Schwarz relied on their old-school charm to distinguish themselves from Fifth Avenue competitors like The Disney Store, and used store features like classic stuffed animals and toy trains to differentiate their products.

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You can achieve something similar by highlighting what makes your brand different.  Many well-known ecommerce retailers do this with a rewards program. While earning rewards is already fun, merchants can take it to the next level with a program name and currency that are directly related to their brand.  SkullSplitter Dice, for example, invites their customers to join the SkullSplitter Adventurer’s Guild to complete quests to earn Gold Pieces.  As a role dice brand, this program showcases not only what they do but what they’re passionate about, creating an all-encompassing brand experience that’s both fun and valuable.

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Diversifying your content can also go a long way to making your shopping experience fun and exciting.  LEGO does a great job of including a variety of types of content on their web store.  From videos to games, they’ve given customers oodles of ways to engage and explore their brand.  With these pieces in place, you offer customers an exciting experience that reminds them why they chose you in the first place.

Taking Your Online Experience to the Next Level

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your customer experience is one of the greatest tools at your disposal.  Having a fantastic product means nothing if customers aren’t excited about your brand, and the lessons we learned here from giants like Disney, Apple, and Sephora give you a fantastic starting point for pushing your online experience even further.  With these tips and tricks in your arsenal, you’re one step closer to wooing those reluctant offline shoppers to your brand - you just need to flip the switch.

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